3 Life-Lessons I’ve Learned From My Child With Special Needs.

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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*Editor's note- this post originally appeared in Mike's column on Disney's Babble.com. To read more of Mike's posts on Babble click here.

*Editor’s note- this post originally appeared in Mike’s column on Disney’s Babble.com. To read more of Mike’s posts on Babble click here.

I never thought my child’s special need would teach me how to be a better human being. But here I am, 7 years later, learning so much from his beautiful spirit and unique perspective on the world around him.

I hear the front door of our house open and shut swiftly on a warm summer afternoon in Central Indiana, where we’ve made our home for the past 15 years. It’s a few days before school start and all of my kids are a bit stir crazy. The unbearable August heat drives us inside most days by the time the clock strikes 12.

After a minute I don’t hear the door open back up so I head to the front porch to see who escaped. I gently open the front door and peer out. There, by our front flower beds is my son, Jacob. He’s smelling each of the newly blossomed hibiscus. He sniffs, then picks, then sniffs, then picks. In between each sniff and pick of a bud, he stops, grins from ear to ear, and says loudly, “Ooooooo, that smells so goooood!”

Some may call his behavior….odd. A little off, or even weird. Truthfully, he’s been called all of that, and more. My heart fills with joy as I watch each step he takes. In the 7 years since we adopted him, he brings us exuberant joy and happiness.

At an early age he was diagnosed with Alcohol-Related-Neurodevelopmental-Disorder (ARND for short). In layman’s terms, his birth mother consumed alcohol and drugs when he was in her womb and it left his brain permanently damaged. ARND affects children in many different ways. Some are aggressive, or delayed when it comes to academics. Some take on the characteristics of other disorders. My son’s mannerisms and personality closely resemble autism. In fact, he displays all the signs of being autistic.

He embodies compassion for other people, especially those who also have special needs.

He suddenly catches sight of me out of the corner of his eye and jumps back. He thought he was alone. “Umm, dad, what are you doing there on that front porch?” he asks articulately. “I’m just watching you buddy,” I reply with a smile. “Are you mad at me for picking the flowers?” he asks. “Cuz I was picking them for mommy.” Gosh I love his giving heart, I think to myself. “No, I’m not mad, but remember our rule about picking flowers?” He looks around for a minute before answering me. “Oh yeeeah, don’t pick the flowers unless you ask first!” he replies joyfully.

He bounds off excitedly toward the fort in the back yard that he and his brothers have worked tirelessly to build all summer. He suddenly stops, turns back and shouts at the top of his lungs, “DAD, YOU NEED TO SEE THIS AWESOME FORT WE’RE BUILDING…COME ON!”

At times, I think that kid sees the world around him in technicolor while the rest of us see it in black and white, or solids.

As I walk back from having a look at the amazing creation they’ve set up in our back yard my heart suddenly fills up and I’m overwhelmed. “If only I saw the world the way he does,” I whisper as I walk through our back door. And with that, I sit down at my desk, open my laptop and begin to jot down some of those valuable lessons, viewpoints, and perspectives I’ve learned from my son…..

We need way more compassion.

He’s taught me so much about compassion. Specifically, that we need much much more of it in this world. The cold winds of mistreatment blow us around like a January wind. However, my 7 year old son has figured out that giving compassion freely changes the world. He never sees others as being different from him and he’s always first to make sure you’re okay if you’re sad or bummed out about something.

When Kristin takes care of our good friend’s son Charlie, who has Cerebral Palsy, Jacob volunteers to go along with her and help. He loves Charlie. He’ll sit for hours next to Charlie’s wheelchair and play video games, or watch movies with him. He embodies compassion for other people, especially those who also have special needs. Imagine that! A child with special needs loving and caring for another child who has special needs.

Equality matters.

For as kind-hearted as my son is, I’ve watched him deal with his fair-share of mistreatment for being different than other kids. Often, the inequality that still exists more than ever in our world, sticks out like a sore thumb when you’re parenting a child with special needs. I’ve watched the way other kids react to him on the playground when he’s a little too loud or over-excited about playing with them. I’ve watched other boys push him away and tell him to go play somewhere else, because he’s different from them.

I am reminded how much equality matters every time my heart breaks over the way my son is treated. You have an entirely different perspective on this when you or someone you love deeply is the victim of it. My son is a beautiful human being. It saddens me that there are some in this world that miss that entirely because they’re too busy thinking about themselves first.

We will never live in a world of peace until we begin to see one another as equal participants in this great thing we call life.

Joy is not about being happy all the time. It’s about choosing to be content with life, regardless of the circumstances.

There’s immeasurable joy in this world when you look closely.

If it’s raining, my son is happy. If it’s sunny, he’s happy. If the week’s been a little too stressful and we haven’t been able to much more than hang around the house, he’s happy. If the extent of our trip away from home consists of a grocery store run, or a prescription drop off at the pharmacy, he’s happy to go along and just be with us. Joy is not about being happy all the time. It’s about choosing to be content with life, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a consistent belief that you’re okay, even when you don’t feel okay. Sometimes that’s happiness, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes that’s just a peace in knowing that you’re alive, you still have a heartbeat, you’re not dead!

If there were a poster child for joy, it would be my son. Even at 7 years old, he lives with a contentment that I sometimes envy. I pray he never loses that.

It’s pretty safe to say that, in many regards, my son has become the teacher. I’ve learned so much from him. Mostly, how to see the world around me. When others see dark, and hopeless circumstances, my son sees light. He sees hope.

Are you raising a child who has a unique perspective on the world? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.